Did you know that St. Lucian Hulan Edwin Jack was noted for being the first black borough president in New York City, representing Manhattan from 1954-1961?
In 1906, he immigrated to the United States at age 16 with a grammar school education and experience as a printer. A paper-box manufacturer who prodded him until he enrolled in night school gave him a job as a janitor. From there, he went to New York University to study business administration. Impatient with the airy discussions of political science majors in a fraternity house, Jack decided to get into hands-on politics. He also became vice president of the Peerless Box Company on Wooster Street, a job he held for many years.
A Democrat, Jack was elected to the New York State Assembly from 1940-1953 and 1968-1972. As an assemblyman Jack was known as a fighter for civil and human rights, successfully introducing legislation to end discrimination in employment in 1945 as well as discrimination in public and semi-public housing. He also introduced bills for the welfare of laborers, veterans, and children. As borough president, he helped secure funding for major improvements in highways and public transportation, as well as public works projects.
His talent for public speaking, honed in college, served him well as a rising star in the Democratic Party organization which propelled him toward the Legislature. Nor did he forget that Blacks, in his younger days, were ”relegated to the basement” of his district Democratic club, as he once said to an interviewer. He advanced by applying himself by following party rules and being amiable. Normally a deliberate speaker, he could turn thunderous on the stump, proclaiming party loyalty and fervently denouncing those of other political persuasions. His widening influence in the Manhattan Democratic organization earned him election to the State Assembly in 1940. Halfway into his seventh term, in 1953, he resigned after being elected to the borough presidency, to which he was re-elected for a second four-year term in 1957.
Over the years, Jack established a record as the untiring author of legislation for human rights and against racial discrimination of any type. Though his bills usually fell by the wayside, he remained convinced that he was not wrong but merely ahead of his time. He was a life-long Democrat, and member of New York state assembly, 1941-53, 1968-72 (New York County 17th District 1941-44, New York County 14th District 1945-53, 79th District 1968-72); borough president of Manhattan, New York, 1954-61; delegate to Democratic National Convention from New York in 1956. He was a member of the Elks and Phi Beta Sigma.
Hulan Edwin Jack, the Harlem politician who in 1953 became the first Black Borough President of Manhattan but lost office after a conflict-of-interest scandal passed away on December 19, 1986.
Sources: http://archives.nypl.org/scm and https://aaregistry.org/story/hulan-jack
This feature runs every Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]